The PMO Cube: looking at things through 3D glasses

Twisting one of the most famous quotes from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, we might say that all PMOs are equal, but some PMOs are more equal than others. While sharing some common traits and strong foundations, successful PMOs can hugely vary depending on endless variables so that we might say that there is no such thing as one standard approach to measure success around internal PMO processes and external outcomes at project, program or portfolio level. What is sure is that successful PMOs are those who are willing to share the compelling picture of a common purpose and look at it from three dimensions: Influence, Environment and Culture.

  • INFLUENCE — Finding a focus in PMO activities starts with understanding where we are and where we want to go when moving along a continuum from supportive, to controlling and directive PMO structures, with increased level of control and power of influence. The degree of PMO’s authority, competence and capability required for each selected type (and combination of types) may vary over time, depending on multiple internal and external factors, including the differences in project management maturity, buy-in from executive sponsor and top management, awareness of the roles and responsibilities of every member of the PMO team and their perceived value, both as individuals and as a whole. Successful PMOs are able to balance the percentages of supportive, controlling and directive modes to best fit the situation and this “multipotentiality”, to quote Emilie Wapnick, comes with synthesis, rapid learning and adaptability.
  • ENVIRONMENT — PMOs can integrate into the organization at different levels and amplitudes, from project (PjMO) to program (PgMO) to portfolio (PtMO) environments. To overcome the resistance to change and make sustainable progress, the most appropriate integration model should be tailored according to the project, program or portfolio environments in which the PMO is embedded and their relative size and complexity. Collaboration is key and it is not enough for PMOs to simply lead governance. The level of embedding is strictly proportional to the level of expertise of the PMO team and the level of respect and recognition that is granted to formal project management methodologies and project management professionals.
  • CULTURE— To survive and thrive in today’s and tomorrow’s world, PMOs must be flexible, evolve and stay in sync with the “real” (often unspoken) needs and goals of the organizations they serve, find a focus and stay focused, ensuring that the context, structure, roles and functions of PMOs are always understood and communicated with a clear vision and mission, no matter how fast it may change. Far from being an unnecessary layer of thinking, formulating, executing and periodically assessing and reassessing PMO strategies is essential to set up and develop temporary or permanent PMOs, as long as this strategy is shared both internally to PMO teams and externally to those who are supposed to benefit from PMO services. It is imperative to appreciate why PMOs are not a cure-all and define how their culture can integrate into the organizational culture (inspiring and being inspired), expanding and growing in maturity through progressive stages, from ad-hoc to more tactical areas, from operational to new strategic and optimizing targets.
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